As one of the top destinations in Europe, it’s little wonder that more and more solos are turning their sights to freelance work in Barcelona. However, as anyone who has already made the jump will tell you, the reality isn’t as easy as you’d hope.
On top of having a million things to remember, confusing guidance and unhelpful admin staff can push people to giving up on their goal altogether.
But don’t let all the complications rain on the parade of your excitement. We’re here with a guide on how to work as a freelancer in Barcelona, covering all the admin, living costs, working spaces, and much more for a seamless transition to a flexible, fulfilling career.
If you don’t already have a solid grasp of the language, it’s essential to get to grips with some of the common words and phrases you’ll encounter if you choose to work as a freelancer in Barcelona. Although you’ll hear both Catalan and Spanish in your daily life, and many of the words here are common to both, we’ll stick to Spanish in this explainer.
You’re probably reading this because you want to work as a freelancer in Barcelona, so you’ve already got a good answer to this question. But if you haven’t lived in the Ciudad Condal before, here are some bonuses about the city you might not be aware of.
Barcelona is a hub for solos. Working from Spain’s second city, you put yourself amongst dynamic minds in every sector. It hasn’t been the host of the Mobile World Congress since 2006 for nothing. From the latest in gaming to doctors remotely operating on patients through 5G, it has been the backdrop of some of the most exciting innovations the world has ever seen.
Another clear reason is the international community. Whether they come for the beaches or the networking, Barcelona is a magnet for ambitious profiles, and there are plenty of communities to join for the newbies.
A third priority for many freelancers in Barcelona is how accessible it is to Europe and beyond. Well-connected to the rest of the continent and with an airport built to welcome the world, solopreneurs can get that real digital nomad life while based in Spain.
As we’ve seen, there is an endless list of benefits when you work as a freelancer in Barcelona, but it also comes with a fair share of responsibilities. You’re in charge of finding your own work, and you have to keep on top of all your social security and tax obligations. Fall behind these at your peril, because the Hacienda may come looking for you if there are any inconsistencies.
All of this requires some serious organizational skills. Even with a decent knowledge of Microsoft Excel, calculating all your incomings and outgoing while operating within the law is no mean feat. And we’re not going to lie, the Spanish system makes it far from an easy ride.
That said, all that red tape is unlikely to stop solos who want to choose their own hours and get total flexibility in where they work. But the overriding reason why so many people choose to work as a freelancer in Barcelona is that you get to take ownership of your own projects — an absolute dream, right?
There are relatively few steps you need to take to get yourself started. However, if you’re wondering how to start working as a freelancer in Barcelona as an expat, you’ll first have to take care of any visa requirements that apply to your situation. Once you’re in the country, you’ll need to get:
Don’t be fooled into thinking that a few steps means it’s an easy process. Based on the combined experience of most freelancers (read: literally everyone), you’ll want to go to all of these with a lot of free time in your schedule and a good book. Then you can expect your funcionario to find a discrepancy with your application and tell you to come back in a week or two.
Now you’re stuck with three options:
Luckily, calling out for help is not as dramatic as it sounds. Xolo’s platform takes the tedious admin out of starting work as a freelancer in Barcelona by registering you as a freelancer with the Spanish tax agency, social security, and more. Just be sure to provide us with:
We’ll kick off this section with the direct costs of working freelance in Barcelona. You can set yourself up with social security and your NIE for a small administration fee, but registering as an autónomo can cost somewhat more. Traditional gestores will charge you around €50, but there’s a better way: With Xolo, you can register to work as a freelancer in Barcelona for free as long as you don’t cancel within the first six months.
Once you’re set up, one expense to take into account is la cuota de autónomo. Often misunderstood to be a fee for simply going it alone, this is actually your social security payment.
At the time of writing, first-time autónomos pay a mere €60 per month, which starts rising after your first year until it settles at €294. However, the Spanish government is in the process of setting the monthly payment against each individual’s earnings. This move has been met with mixed emotions among Barcelona freelancers, and many are seeking reassurance from accountants on how it will affect them.
If you’re coming from Northern Europe or the USA, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the cost of living in Barcelona. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s a drastic difference. Renting a single room for less than €500 is almost impossible unless you’re OK with living in conditions that… Well, you get the picture. However, you can get more bang for your buck if you stay out of the center.
Living in neighborhoods further out like Sants and Sant Andreu, or even the adjoining cities of Hospitalet de Llobregat and Badalona, doesn’t leave you isolated. With ten trips on the underground metro for just over €10, and the common knowledge that “every journey takes 30 minutes”, you’re always a short ride from the action.
With the international turmoil of 2022, basic utilitiy bills of gas and electricity are unfortunately on the rise and difficult to give an exact figure on. Food prices are still considerably lower than in Northern Europe, for example, especially in-season fruit and vegetables.
But you’re not going to spend all your time at home, so what are the prices like when you’re out and about in the city? Food-wise, a menú del día (starter, main, dessert, soft drink) that you can find in almost all restaurants at lunchtime breached the €10 mark a few years ago. Nowadays, you’re looking at around €11 for standard places to €14 for something a little special. Eating out at night will set you back slightly more, but you can keep the wine flowing; with no export costs to pay, it is noticeably cheaper than in producing countries that don’t produce any of the good stuff.
If you’re of clubbing age, first of all, congratulations. Secondly, the major players charge around €20 on entry for which you’ll get a generous G&T or something similar and hours of dancing. Metros are open until 2 a.m. on Friday nights and all night on Saturdays, there are pretty reliable night buses, and you can get a taxi to most places in the city for under €20.
As a solopreneur, you’re responsible for all your own invoicing, tax payments, and social security contributions. Nobody ever said this lifestyle was easy.
As we mentioned earlier, your first year of social security payments, or cuotas de autónomo, starts off at €60 per month for new freelancers, before gradually rising to €294. Freelancers in Barcelona generally pay this fee as a standing order, with the money being transferred automatically.
When creating invoices in Spain, there are two key numbers you need to remember:
Your clients will usually pay your IRPF on your behalf, directly to the Agencia Tributaria. In your first two years as an autónomo, you can pay a reduced IRPF percentage of 7%, but this does mean a higher tax bill at the end of the year.
In terms of value added tax, your clients pass their IVA contribution on to you. You then have to hold on to it, before paying it to the Agencia at the end of every trimester.
For more details on tax exemptions and billing your clients, we cover all you need to know in our guide to invoicing as a freelancer in Spain.
Although your IRPF percentage is fixed, your real-terms tax rate is not. This means you have to pay the difference when you submit your quarterly tax returns, so stay prepared with some money tucked away. At the same time as you pay your income tax returns, you’ll also have to pass on the IVA you’ve collected from your clients over the trimester.
Then, around spring time, comes your yearly tax returns, AKA la Declaración de la Renta. A mere whisper of the phrase strikes fear into the hearts of those who have had to go through the process themselves.
You can do it online, or in person, but the time wasted waiting in line and potential for errors make it more hassle than it’s worth.
The good news is you can sidestep the administrative mess. Rather than having the Bogeyman of the Agencia Tributaria breathing down your neck, you can do all your invoicing, accounting and quarterly tax reports through a platform like Xolo's.
Barcelona is a true hub for freelancers, with all the top names in paid coworking spaces scattered across the city. If that’s what you’re after, head to Google. Here, we’re going to be focusing on free centers that are unique to the Catalan capital.
Ignoring the fear of sounding outdated, Barcelona’s libraries are a much-underestimated quiet place to get into that deep work mindset. They are all over the city, and some sit in prime locations such as the Design Museum and the The Museum of the History of Catalonia.
Opened in 2020, Casa SEAT is a perfect space for freelancers and coworking in Barcelona on the glamorous Passeig de Gràcia. With a cafe and food on premises, you can spend a full day getting down to business and meet up with likeminded solos for motivation and inspiration.
Right in the center of the city, imaginCafé is CaixaBank’s contribution to the world of freelancers. With an ultra-modern design and exhibits of art, music, gaming and more, it’s a statement of intent for helping growing businesses blossom. Want to really make your mark? Launch an event in a conference room and strut your stuff in front of an audience.
Great Wi-Fi is fairly ubiquitous across the city, so it’s easy to use cafes as a base to work as a freelancer in Barcelona. Sure, you’ll have to buy a coffee or a sandwich, but it can certainly work out cheaper than the big-name coworking spaces.
Casa Bonay is a trendy hotel in the center of the city that attracts creative, ambitious minds. With long tables and great coffee on site, it’s a real favorite.
Sandwichez is a classic among expat and Barcelona freelancers. They have branches all over the city, excellent Wi-Fi and a welcome blast of Baltic air conditioning for the intense summer months.
Sopa Barcelona is located in Barcelona’s established neighbourhood for startups and innovators: Poblenou. Get to work early in the morning and grab a delicious veggie or vegan lunch all in the same place. When you’re done, you’re a stone’s throw from the best afterwork venues the city has to offer.
Outside the structure of a company, it’s hard for solos to know where to turn for reliable information. Here are a few areas to consider as you begin your journey.
There are plenty of communities for freelancers in Barcelona, like BCNfreelancers.com. There, you can advertise your services, look for jobs, link up with new contacts, and get recommendations on the best coworking spots.
Communities like Xolo’s Slack channel are ideal breeding grounds for ideas and connections, and a go-to place for any questions you have. The hive mind has usually been there and done that, and you’ll probably find that your query has already been answered in the past.
A place to ask questions, share resources, find job opportunities and connect with your fellow fiercely independent freelancers!
With the Spanish administration and tax system as… ahem… complex as it is, it’s little wonder that an entire ecosystem has developed to help freelancers in Barcelona manage their finances. Prices can vary wildly, as can the quality of your accountant.
There is no clear stick to measure a gestor against; instead, there’s a lot of luck and word-of-mouth involved. Some will be very hands-on, offering tips and tricks to improve your situation, but the majority value the quantity of their clients over the quality of their service.
The next generation of freelancer support, platforms like Xolo combine the best of freelancer communities and accountants for an all-in-one service. As well as technical tools like invoice generators and tax calculators, there is an active community, FAQ page, and comprehensive guides to simplify your work as a freelancer in Barcelona.
You can even up sticks and move to another country. Xolo, for example, covers 150 countries, so you don’t need to start all over again if you move. Instead, you’ll get full support from a local team of experts, advising you on tax questions, invoicing, and how to streamline your business.
If you found all those moving parts in the system a little overwhelming, you’re not alone. Well over 100,000 solopreneurs are in the same boat, which is why they’ve simplified their freelance life on one platform.
Xolo gives freelancers in Spain the freedom to focus on what they do best while we handle the rest.
✔️We'll prepare and submit your autónomo registration for FREE
✔️You can create professional invoices and send them to local and international clients right from your dashboard
✔️Xolo's team of experienced local accountants will prepare your tax reports and submit them every quarter
So if you’re on the lookout for a platform to start work as a freelancer in Barcelona, sign up to Xolo today!
James McKenna has been a freelancer since 2017, working in subtitling, translation, and his main passion — writing. He loves nothing more than falling down a rabbit hole, a habit that has helped him specialize in areas as diverse as biotech, climate change, higher education, and business strategy.
Based in Barcelona, James learned the ropes the hard way, making mistakes that turned into valuable learning experiences. After working hard to establish himself, he is now working smart, and is always on the lookout for ways to streamline his business.